‘Did you get to meet the Pope’, is the question I am most often asked after people discover that I spent eight months as a long term volunteer for World Youth Day 2005 in Cologne, Germany. Most people expect my most memorable moment during this time to be standing at the altar during the final Mass with Pope Benedict. Or, perhaps spending the night with close friends on the field after the Saturday night Vigil; maybe even the hours of work spent at a computer screen answering emails and phone calls in a madcap attempt for organization before the great days arrived.
Instead, I find myself going back to a tiny chapel in the basement of St. Andreas Church, which just happened to be the crypt of St. Albert the Great. Every weekday morning in this quiet, peaceful place, one could find a small group of worshipers from all around the world, taking the time to prepare themselves for their often strenuous day in the World Youth Day office, and uniting themselves in prayer with the hundreds of thousands of young people and their catechists who would be joining them together with the Vicar of Christ, for a few short days in August.
World Youth Day is without a doubt a powerful and grace-filled experience. Even those who attend simply because they are curious and live nearby will be blessed by the outpouring of grace and the pure joy surrounding the occasion. But for those who are pilgrims instead of spectators, privileged believers, who have carefully prepared themselves for this great experience, World Youth Day offers a life altering call to enter into the mission of our beloved Catholic Church.